The J-1 exchange visitor visa is for applicants who are visiting the U.S. temporarily to participate in an approved program for the acquisition of skill and knowledge before returning home to their home country. Unlike other nonimmigrant work visas, J-1 applicants are not sponsored by employers; they are sponsored by certain programs approved by the U.S. Department of State.
The visa is authorized under some specific occupations, which include teaching, instructing or lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills, receiving training, or to receive graduate medical education or training. Typically, qualified exchange visitors are mostly:
- Professors or scholars
- Research assistants
- Au pairs
- Special visitors
- Camp counselors
J-1 Visa Documents
The J-1 application process involves three parties – the applicant, the program sponsor, the United States government. As an applicant, you must file and complete several forms as well as present relevant documents as supporting evidence to each of the claims you make in your application. The following are the required documents for your J-1 visa application process.
DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility
This is the first step in obtaining a J-1 visa. After you have been accepted by your program sponsor, your information will be entered into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which is a U.S. government database.
SEVIS will process your information and generate a PDF format of the DS-2019, which will be forwarded to you through your program sponsor. Before signing the DS-2019, do a thorough check to be sure all of the information on it is correct and that every section is correctly completed. Your date of birth and the spelling of your name must be the exact way they appear in your passport.
DS-7002 Training/Internship Placement Plan
This is an official form from the Department of State. The DS-7002 has four sections for information about you and your sponsor. The first section must contain basic information like
- Your name
- Email address
- Program sponsor
- Program category
- Occupational category
- Current field of study/profession
- Years of experience in the field
- Type of your degree or certificate
- Date awarded or expected
- Training/internship date
The second section is basically about the name, location, and website of your sponsoring organization. In section three, you are to review the terms and then sign with a date. It contains two parts: one is for you, and the other is for your sponsor. The fourth part contains your placement plan.
It is for your sponsoring organization supervisor to fill in the specific development program you are to undergo and outline how you will accomplish the objectives set for the program.
DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application
This will be submitted online as part of your J-1 visa application process. The confirmation page with the barcode is one of the items you will need to bring to your visa interview. Each J-1 visa applicant—including children—must have a DS-160. You are to complete and submit the form online before you can book an interview at the U.S. Consulate or Embassy. While filling your DS-160, you will be asked to choose a place where you will later attend your visa interviews.
A Valid Passport
You will need to present a valid passport with a validity period that will not expire for at least six months validity beyond the period of stay for your J-1 program. If you are planning on coming with any family members, each person must have his or her passport with the same rules for the validity period.
Recently Taken Photograph
One recent photograph picture of you must be either uploaded when filling your DS-160 or brought for the interview. The photo must meet these DOS requirements for passport photographs.
Evidence of Ties to Your Home Country
You must be able to prove that you have binding family or monetary ties in your home country, and you have the intention of returning home after completing your program. There is no general rule on how this evidence is filed due to varied circumstances among individual applicants. However, each applicant must be able to convince the consular officer that you will be ready to return to your home country.
Demonstrate Financial Ability to Pay
You may also be asked to present proof showing that you have the financial ability to pay for the program. Some of the documents you may need to present as proof include bank statements, scholarship paperwork or financial aid (if any), documentation from a sponsor, account statements, and tax returns. If your program is to be sponsored by a family member, make sure you provide relevant documents supporting such claims.
J-1 Visa Interview
If you are a J-1 visa applicant between the ages of 14 and 79, you will attend an interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate as part of your visa process. Applicants between the ages of 13 and 80 may not need to attend an interview unless they are specifically asked by the consulate. It is essential to prepare well before the interview day and to bring all your documents with you. Failure to bring all the required documents including the proofs of payments and ties to your home country may lead to the cancellation of your interview without any refund of your DS-160 fee of $160.
If you present all the documents and evidence as required, you stand a good chance of having a quick and issue-free interview. The questions vary depending on your background and your J-1 program. However, they will likely basic questions which you won’t have difficulty answering if you prepare ahead.
Apart from questions concerning your program, you are likely to be asked about your previous visits to the U.S. (if any). In addition, the consular officer may want to know what you plan to do after returning home from the program.
Waiver of Exchange Visitor Two-Year Home-Country Physical Presence Requirement
As part of U.S. immigration law, some categories of J-1 exchange visitors are subject to return to their home countries for at least two years after completing their exchange visitor program before they are eligible to return to the U.S. You are likely to fall under these categories of exchange visitors if:
- Your program was directly or indirectly financed by a foreign government or the U.S. government for the purpose of exchange.
- You have come for graduate medical education or training; and
- The skill or knowledge you are coming to develop is in a field that your home country requested to be in the DOS designated skills list.
However, the two-year home country physical presence requirement can be waived on these bases.
To waive this requirement, you will need to complete the DS-305. Relevant things to pay extra careful attention to on the form include:
- Item 12, (which is about your SIVES Number, when your J-1 program was on Form IAP-66)
- Item 17 (which has to do with the date you entered on a J-1 visa); and
- Item 14 (if you have dependent J-2 children or spouse).
You will be asked to present supporting documents alongside your DS-305 and your reason(s) for filing for the waiver will be determined what evidence you will be asked to submit. The waiver filing fee is $120.
J-1 Visa Fee
J-1 visa fees vary widely among different program sponsors. However, there are some J-1 visa costs that are the same for all applicants. The DS-160 and SEVIS fee will cost you $160 and $180 respectively.
If you want to get a J-1 visa waiver, you will have to pay an additional $120 for the DS-305, while the visa extension fee will also cost you $367 for a new DS-2019. In addition, nationals of some countries are required to pay reciprocity fee as part of their J-1 visa application process; you need to check the Reciprocity and Civil Documents page on the DOS website to be sure if this concerns you.
J-1 Visa Processing Time
The J-1 processing time might not be the same for every applicant. However, the whole process may take you between 5 weeks to 2 months depending on the workload and staffing in the consulate or embassy you are applying from. The J-1 visa application does not allow for premium processing since it does not make use of the I-129 form, so you will have to stick to the usual processing time.
J-1 Visa Denial
Your J-1 visa application can be denied for different reasons, which include failure to file your documents appropriately or incomplete supporting documents. If the consular officer denies your application, you may reapply provided you can fix the issues identified from the first attempt.
Delay, rejection, or denial of a J-1 application usually occurs when you don’t adhere to the guidelines or if the consular officer isn’t convinced that you should be given a J-1 visa. In any case, you can contact your immigration attorney to advise you on the best action to take.